As we approach the final episode, Sterling Cooper & Partners finds itself on the brink of another major change. And we know what you’re all thinking – yes, there’s some news on that Scout’s Honor animated project. We’ve got the full breakdown on “Time & Life”. The episode, not the concepts.
I may be biased because she’s played by Alison Brie, but for real, Trudy Campbell is one of my favorite characters on TV. The scene where she throws Pete out is in my top five favorites from the entire series, and I love that she got out of a terrible marriage in a time when that really wasn’t an option. Trudy Campbell is awesome and deserves our respect.
This was also Pete’s first real story of the final season, and it was kind of nice to see a straightforward little piece that isn’t pregnant with subtext. In fact, his (then) impending move to California isn’t even really addressed at all. I really do enjoy these little looks into what life was like for a single mother. It feels like there’s a whole Trudy Campbell spinoff happening and we only get to see the occasional crossover episode. There’s so much to wonder about here – Little Tammy drew a face with a mustache, which Pete finds interesting. Did Trudy have a mustachioed boyfriend? She seemed like somebody who just broke up, actually. (Come on, let’s get that Better Call Saul-style spinoff, AMC!)
I liked seeing them unite against somebody even though their relationship still seems chilly at best. (That first phone call did not go well.) And when they get to the bit where the headmaster has a beef with the Campbells over some Red Wedding-style treachery centuries back, that was amazing. I’m always baffled at those WASP types who know their family history going back for generations like that. (As noted in another article this week, I can trace Bruce Wayne’s lineage back farther than my own.) I can’t even imagine meeting somebody like that, but I also totally believe that Pete is that guy.
There’s a theme that’s been coming up on some of my favorite shows lately about escaping the past. Justified’s final season was about a couple of guys who couldn’t escape the influence of their fathers until they decided to stop worrying about it. Game of Thrones is steeped in ancestral grudges. And while I don’t think Pete spends all day fretting about the Campbell’s misdeeds, it’s a nice example of how his lineage works against him. Where Don’s adrift because he doesn’t have any sense of history past his own father, Pete is, in this instance, a prisoner of it.
By the way? Nice job on not having Pete and Trudy hook up afterwards. And even nicer job on Pete finally throwing the punch he didn’t get a chance to, way back when he fought Lane Pryce.
And just a note to AMC. If the Complete Series box set includes an exclusive Scout’s Honor pilot, I will buy it despite already owning the individual seasons. I don’t like Lou Avery, but this ongoing saga brings me so much joy. It’s even better knowing that he ultimately has to fail. It’s a thing Mad Men does. Sometimes they use real people and products and TV shows, and sometimes they make them up. The implication is that the ones they make up didn’t succeed and that’s why you’ve never heard of them. You’ve heard of Conrad Hilton, but not Jimmy Barrett. You’ve heard of The Defenders but not To Have and to Hold. And I certainly haven’t seen Scout’s Honor showing up on late night TV.
And that brings us to the main point – the big move. Since this kind of dominates the episode, we’re both going to talk a little about it. One thing that jumped out at me was that it’s another step in the season’s high-speed Don Draper highlight reel. He’s on that carousel, repeating the first six seasons. Once again, he has to save the agency by setting up a new office somewhere and starting from scratch. You can even see a bit of arrogance in the old Sterling Cooper crew. They’ve done it before, they’ll do it again. Except this time… they don’t.
It’s hard to say whether this is the disaster scenario some of them predicted or if it’s going to be as great as the McCann executives pitched. Probably it’ll work out great for some people but not for others. Sounds like it’ll be great for Peggy at least. But it’s still the end of the Sterling Cooper name, which is all that’s left of Bert Cooper. And Don’s the guy who fought being under contract for as long as he could. He doesn’t even have the illusion of autonomy anymore. I think for Don, this goes in the loss column. And I have to say, the way McCann cut them out of the decision and didn’t bother to tell them until the last minute doesn’t bode well for how well they’ll be integrated into the larger company.
Boy, Mad Men loves lining up the partners. They did it a couple of times in this episode, and it called to mind that moment when they all went up to check out the new second floor. Every time they do it, I have the urge to change my desktop wallpaper.
This development is really the first time where it felt like the show reminding us that it’s ending. Unlike Breaking Bad or Justified, there’s not one story to wrap up. There doesn’t have to be a big explosive finale. The show could very well end with everybody going to work. The Wire is maybe the closest equivalent I can think of. But this feels like an endgame move. It’s almost done, guys.
Finally, I have to wonder about Diana. She called twice, took back her messages, and now there are other people living in her apartment. Did she call Don to say goodbye? Was she looking for help? It’s likely we’ll never know and just end up wondering like Don. It’s not like she can show up at his home now that he sold the place. It seems more and more people are on the “Diana represents death” train, and I’m still not buying it. But there are still three episodes to go and Matt Weiner is good at keeping secrets.
Even though it’s not a term that was ever thrown around in this era, Peggy and Stan are totally Work Husband and Work Wife. This would be news to Pete, who goes right to Peggy like any good Work Husband would when he learns about the McCann situation. (It’s so annoying but probably so accurate that guys like Roger and Pete would just assume their former flames, Joan and Peggy, would be waiting around for them with no real prospects if they ever deigned to want them back again.) She, in turn, lets Stan in on it, but not before they go through a tough day of casting that doesn’t end very well.
It’s always a tough combination of amusing and sad to see Peggy with children. She’s so awkward with them, yet she often connects with them better than she does with a lot of adults. The casting session yields a young boy who hugs her like she’s his own mother who he hasn’t seen in days and a girl who gets left at the agency to wait while her mother took her brother on another appointment. She and Stan take the girl into her office to wait, where she staples her own finger while playing at Peggy’s desk. This occurs just as the mom arrives, leading to a blow up where both women judge each other’s life choices. The kicker is when the mom says, “I do what i want with my kids, you do what you want with yours.” Lady, you don’t have any idea.
The heart to heart she and Stan have is beyond wonderful. He just really gets her, understanding that she’s not necessarily destined for motherhood and not holding it against her because he knows first hand that she’s fantastic at her job. She finally feels like she has someone she can confide in and tells Stan about the child she gave up after he jokes about not having any kids…that he knows of. (“No one should be able to make a mistake and not move on. She should be able to live the rest of her life. Just like a man does.”) Peggy should be able to be a creative director because she is qualified, just like Don was when he got the gig. She also tells Stan that her son is with a family somewhere, but she doesn’t know because that’s the only way she could move on. He supports her, and doesn’t judge her like that stage mom did. Their relationship is perfect as it is, but their chemistry is such that there will always be part of me that wants them to end up together. Peggy isn’t sure what to think about going to McCann, but Stan reassures her that she’ll be great and she implores him to come with her.
I could say the same thing about Roger and Joan, even though we know by now that their pairing is ultimately too toxic to last. That said, these partners are an amazing work family and the way they unite to pitch the idea of SC&P West is as exhilarating as their little capers have always been on this show. The catch, of course, is that not everyone is buying what they’re selling this time. They’ve burned the bridge with Ken and lost Dow, so even though Pete finds a way to secure Secor Laxatives, McCann is not impressed. They instead want to dazzle our guys with exciting things like “Coca Cola”, assuming they’ll all be delighted to be heading to “advertising heaven”. As we’ve seen in the past, Roger and Don have bristled when they’ve had to report to a higher-up and have bolted. They don’t like the idea at all; they want the autonomy they’ve always enjoyed. Ted’s fine with it, because he’s not afraid of the big bad agency. Pete is anxious, but probably hopes he’ll finally find someone who really respects him. Joan’s just worried that none of her accounts seem to be making the transition.
I can relate a bit to this idea of mergers and absorption, as I’ve worked for one ad agency for nearly 20 years but the name on my business card has changed four times. The consolidation that is commonplace nowadays began back around this time when so many boutique agencies were being swallowed up and sold off for parts. The reaction of the rest of the office staff at the end was a perfect scene of chaos that represents the uncertainty being faced when you know that the agency that’s taking over yours already has someone who does your job. They know there’s not enough room for everyone. And Don can’t rally the troops this time the way he could back when he got everyone to work together to win the Jaguar business. Has he lost his touch because he’s so adrift if his personal life? The end of the hour finds him truly alone; Ted has a girlfriend waiting, Pete is off to check on Trudy, Joan is going to see Richard and even Roger is meeting Marie, reinforcing the weird father/brother bond he and Don have. It’s pretty much the saddest thing ever that he’s trying to find Diana to commiserate with after such a day. I personally hope she’s gone for good, but I still want something good to happen for Don before we leave him forever. He’s a disaster of a person, but I can’t help but love him and want him to find the happiness that’s always eluded him.
Next week – a vague trailer doesn’t tell us much, except that Harry Crane will say something to Roger.